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Cacao for Peace: How the Fruit of a Tree Could Help Sustain Peace and Revive Rural Communities in Colombia

Posted by Jonathan Cordone, Deputy Under Secretary for Farm and Foreign Agricultural Services in Trade
Feb 21, 2017
Cacao Hunters
By partnering with Cacao Hunters, a specialty chocolate producer, Colombia’s indigenous Arhauco farmers have been able to sell their cacao at a premium price. USDA’s Cacao for Peace initiative will help replicate this success on a larger scale by creating new opportunities for Colombia’s 35,000 small-scale cacao farmers.

I’ve learned a lot about cacao lately. I learned that it’s pronounced ka-COW. I learned that it’s grown on trees in tropical climates and is the essential ingredient in chocolate, cocoa powder and cocoa butter. I learned that it’s not to be confused with coca, which is an illicit crop and the primary ingredient in cocaine.

I also learned that Colombia, despite having near-perfect growing conditions for the cacao tree, produces a small fraction of the world’s supply. So how might cacao help solidify peace in Colombia after a 52-year armed conflict and, at the same time, enhance the U.S.-Colombia relationship? I discovered how when I visited last month and learned more about USDA’s Cacao for Peace project.

Experts believe that the country’s ideal growing conditions and fine flavor varieties could turn Colombia into a cacao-producing powerhouse. Already, indigenous Arhauco farmers on Colombia's Caribbean Coast produce high quality, fine flavor cacao from a rare variety known as the "jewel" of the Sierra Nevadas. Through a business venture with Cacao Hunters, a Colombian specialty chocolatier, the Arhaucos have sold their beans at a premium, resulting in the region's first single-origin chocolate bar that has won prestigious awards in London and Paris.

I was fortunate to be in Bogota when the Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos signed a ceasefire agreement with the top leader of the FARC, the country's largest guerrilla group. It was also during this visit that USDA’s Foreign Agricultural Service formally launched the Cacao for Peace initiative. The project, which combines expertise and resources from a range of stakeholders, is intended to help Colombian communities realize the full economic potential of cacao production.

The project will start with an in-depth supply chain analysis. That may sound boring, but it’s incredibly important to ensure that women, laborers and vulnerable populations benefit from this burgeoning new agricultural sector rather than being exploited by it. Cacao for Peace will also engage in cooperative research and on-the-ground activities to help farmers improve bean quality and increase yields using climate-smart, sustainable practices.

If the project is successful, it will not only help Colombia’s 35,000 small-scale cacao farmers remain on their land and develop vibrant rural communities in post-conflict regions, but it will also provide the United States with a needed supply of sustainably grown cacao.

In addition to being close neighbors, the United States and Colombia are parties to a free trade agreement that helps facilitate cross-border collaboration. American confectioners could become an important source of demand for high-value cacao sustainably grown in nearby Colombia. In addition to benefitting American confectioners and Colombian producers, this would create additional demand for American agricultural products like dairy, nuts and fruits, since every dollar of cacao we import generates an estimated $1-2 of demand for those products by the U.S. confectionary industry.

Cacao production could be a key to maintaining stability in Colombia and deepening economic ties between our two nations. I’m proud that USDA’s Cacao for Peace could play an important role in helping to realize its full potential.

Arhauco farmers with USDA Deputy Under Secretary for Farm and Foreign Agricultural Services Jonathan Cordone
Arhauco farmers greet USDA Deputy Under Secretary for Farm and Foreign Agricultural Services Jonathan Cordone (left), who helped launch USDA’s Cacao for Peace initiative on a recent visit to Colombia.
Category/Topic: Trade

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Cyntia Erickson
Jul 20, 2016

I have a small cacao company and would be interested in learning more about your endeavors and doing business with these farmers. Thank you.

Mark Hitchcox
Jul 20, 2016

Nice article, and nice initiative! Having studied in Colombia, I agree that many Colombians are passionate about their land, and the desire for a sustainable and peaceful coexistence.

Ben Weaver
Jul 20, 2016

@Cyntia Erickson - thank you for your interest in the Cacao for Peace initiative and in Colombia’s burgeoning cacao industry. To learn more, please contact Robert Schubert with USDA’s Foreign Agricultural Service at (202) 720-1759 or <a href="; rel="nofollow"></a>.

Jul 23, 2016

I think for small-scale cacao farmers, who receive only a small percentage of the final value of a chocolate bar, falling cocoa prices in recent years have resulted in low productivity of their crops and decreased incomes. This has hampered the development in the cocoa producing regions, which are already some of the poorest areas of the country. And despite its middle-income country status, 23 million Colombians are poor and 6 million live below the extreme poverty line.
How to turn Colombia into a cacao-producing powerhouse?...

braimoh kingsley
Aug 19, 2016

hi cytia i would like to do business with you since you have a cacao company, thank u.